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Religion Less Central to Lay Teachers, Study Shows

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St Louis--Teachers in Roman Catholic high schools today are "less religious" and more reluctant to impart religious values to students than were their counterparts of 20 years ago, according to a new study discussed here last week at the annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association.

The preliminary findings, which confirm what many expected would be the result of increasing numbers of lay teachers in the Catholic schools, are nonetheless troubling, Catholic high-school officials said at the meeting. The ability of their institutions to fulfill their religious mission, these officials said, is dependent on the willingness of teachers to discuss their own convictions and to impart spiritual values to students.

Study Cost $100,000

The study, "Sharing the Faith: The Beliefs and Values of Catholic High School Teachers," was conducted at a cost of $100,000 by the ncea in collaboration with the Search Institute of Minneapolis. It was financed by the St. Mary's, Raskob, and Lewis Foundations.

The findings are based on the responses of 1,062 Catholic high-school teachers to a 260-item survey covering such subject areas as personal background, religious beliefs, and social and political attitudes. A full report on the study will be published within a month, according to Bruno Manno, director of research and inservice programs for the ncea

Twenty years ago, priests, sisters, and brothers made up the vast majority of the teaching force in the nation's Catholic high schools. Today, the study found, only 25 percent of the 150,000 Catholic high-school teachers in the country are members of religious communities; about three out of every four Catholic high-school teachers are lay people, and almost one out of every five teachers is non-Catholic.

According to Mr. Manno, the study was conducted because "we didn't know what that huge shift in staff meant for preserving the Catholicity of the schools. The schools make no sense if they are not centered on a commitment to religious education."

Lay Teachers 'Less Religious'

The study found that while most teachers in Catholic high schools have a strong commitment to the faith, lay teachers are generally "less religious" than their church-affiliated colleagues.

The teachers' responses, the authors of the study said, raise both hopes and concerns. For example, the large majority of the teachers in Catholic high schools--75 percent--claim that religion is "the most important" or "one of the most important influences in my life."

But the authors also found that 58 percent of Catholic lay teachers are "not very active" or are "inactive" in the church, and 65 percent of non-Catholic teachers are "inactive." And while 90 percent of the religious teachers accept the responsibility to promote the religious aims and values of the schools, 70 percent of the Catholic lay teachers and only half of the non-Catholics accept this responsibility.

Virtually all teachers in Catholic high schools believe their schools place strong emphasis on the religious training of students, but 40 percent report that this emphasis has no observable influence on the selection of teachers.

Given such findings, the authors of the study contend, the religious mission of some of the schools could be jeopardized by a continuing increase in the proportion of lay teachers.

Reluctant to Speak About Faith

"Lay teachers are not as clear about what they should do to further the religious mission of the schools," said Michael Guerra, one of the authors of the study, in an interview. "They are much more reluctant to speak with their students about their own religious faith."

According to Mr. Guerra, who is executive director of the secondary-school department at the ncea, there is a growing conviction among Catholic-school administrators and officials that all teachers--not only members of religious communities--should play a part in what they term the "spiritual formation" of students.

"Teachers must give witness to the values we hold," said Monsignor John F. Meyers, president of the ncea "We want to make sure teachers are trained in what it means to teach in a Catholic high school." Msgr. Meyers added that3teacher training, particularly religious training, is currently one of his primary concerns.

According to Mr. Guerra, the findings of the survey will be used next year to develop inservice programs for high-school teachers.

The survey also found that:

On a general index of religious commitment, teachers in Catholic high schools are more committed than either American Catholics in general or the American public in general.

Teachers in Catholic high schools are more resolutely opposed to abortion than are American Catholics or the American public in general.

Teachers in Catholic high schools are generally more supportive of a verifiable nuclear freeze, the proposed equal-rights amendment, and civil rights for homosexuals than are Catholics in general or the American public in general.

Many Catholic-school teachers did not afford social-justice concerns a high ranking on a list of 22 life goals.

Fifty-eight percent of the teachers believe that teachers who declare themselves to be atheists will find that their contracts will not be renewed.

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